Have you ever wanted to test your own mettle?

I’ve been doing a lot of mountain biking lately in preparation for the VulkanBike race in Daun, Germany, in September. But September has seemed so far away, and I’ve needed to test the new bike I built to see how it performed on some real trails.

I have been biking in and around Heidelberg, Germany, ever since I returned from Iraq. I was looking for a good opportunity to test my progress out on the trail, and I found I didn’t have to look very far. My local Outdoor Recreation Center had information on the 2003 Chrysler U.S. Forces Europe Mountain Bike Championship Series being held throughout Germany this summer.

I had missed the first couple of races but there was still time to enter the next one, which would be in Giessen on Aug. 9. I had been stationed in Giessen before and knew the terrain well. It’s mostly flat, some rolling hills and gravel roads. I next went to the Internet and searched for some phone numbers and e-mail addresses. I called Giessen’s Outdoor Recreation Center and a recreation specialist sent me all the forms I needed to register and gave me a head’s up on what to expect on race day.

I was anxious for that Saturday to arrive. I woke up early and got my wife and son into the car and headed north to Giessen. The start point was well marked and we drove right to it. The start area was right in front of the headquarters of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, my old unit.

There was a wide variety of riders there and as time went by, more and more vehicles showed up with shiny bikes mounted on them. There were some riders with store-bought bikes who were entering the race for fun. Then there were the guys with shaved legs who rode $5,000 bikes made of exotic metals. These guys were serious. I fell in somewhere in the middle. I have a nice bike but I am not quite ready to shave my legs.

The race started a little late due to traffic and some minor problems with the course. It seemed that the course ran through some fields with deep grass that covered up the ruts and potholes. We had a chance to ride the course before the race and the potholes were causing everyone problems. The weather was great but the heat was getting to most of the riders. It was at least 100 degrees by the time the official fired the pistol for the race to begin.

The course was difficult. There was no trail per se; the designers simply placed white tape and arrows down as we rode 4 laps around the 5 km course. The female riders did two laps. The one child participant only had to do one lap.

The course started out on a hill, through some grass and onto the road for a while. There were some “whoopdy-do’s” that were almost impossible to ride up and down thanks to the steep grades and loose sand. Most riders walked this section to avoid going over the handlebars.

The male racers rode together but were broken into groups by age and civilian/military. It’s hard to tell who is winning when you are on the course and everyone is riding in a big circle!

I finished in 1:29:37. I wasn’t really happy with the course and thought I could have done better if there hadn’t been so many potholes and obstacles, such as the hills or the deep gorges left by the M109A6 Paladin tracked vehicles from 2/3 FA. It seems that the race area is also their local maneuver area.

My wife and I were sitting under the fest tent drinking some water after the race, and listening to the from Outdoor Recreation announce the winners. I wasn’t expecting to place, so I was only half listening as they called out names and handed out the trophies.

I was just waiting for the bike raffle to start when I heard “Cliff Oliver, third-place winner in the men’s military class!” I was shocked!

My wife and I looked at each other in disbelief as I ran up to the podium. It was my first time standing up there and it felt great. Now I knew what it felt like to be one of the guys in the bike magazines!

After the winners were announced the raffle began. They called out the first prize — a brand new mountain bike, courtesy of AAFES and J&R Sports. It must have been a miracle because as they announced the numbers, they matched the ticket that I was holding! I had just won a brand new mountain bike! It was really turning out to be a great day.

With only two races left in the series, one in Dexheim on Aug. 23 and one in Garmisch on Sept. 6, I have a chance to do some more riding and win some points for the overall series.

MWR totals the points each rider wins at each race to see who wins the series championship. If you place in a couple of races and do well, you could come out in the top 10 by the end of the series.

I left Giessen excited. I wasn’t sore or very tired. My new bike held up great at the race and I had walked away with a trophy and a new mountain bike at that!

I also knew where I stood as far as my physical fitness was concerned. My training program was working well. I decided to keep riding, running, going to the gym and then increase my workouts’ intensity as the VulkanBike gets closer.

My next stop along the way will be to the MWR race in Dexheim. If you are interested in the race, you can call Zeljko Stjepanovic, recreation assistant at Dexheim Outdoor Recreation, at DSN: 334-5818 or civilian 06133-69-818. I hope to see you there!

Sgt. Cliff Oliver is a mountain biker living in Heidelberg, Germany. You may e-mail him at If you have information you would like to have printed about bicycle excursions, races or club events in your area, please send them to travel@

Deutsche Bahn rental program

Deutsche Bahn has a new bicycle rental program to help you see Munich, Berlin and Frankfurt, all cities where bicycle riders are accorded the highest road respect.

More than 3,000 red and silver bikes (purchased for about $1,700 each) are parked throughout the central areas of each city and near the main train station. To use a bike, call the phone number inscribed on it and provide your credit-card information. The rate is six euro cents per minute to a maximum of 15 euros a day (about $17) or 60 euros (about $70) a week.

You can leave the bike wherever you like within the central area, or take it to the outskirts, lock it to a secure sign or other stable public object near a major intersection and call in the location.

For information, go to

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